Local Artist Showcases Pittsburgh Community Gardens in Series of Serigraphs | Visual art | Pittsburgh
When COVID restrictions began in Pittsburgh, many were cut off from in-person communities and social media. Community gardens became a place where people could not only interact with others safely outside, but also connect with their neighbors and access fresh food and free resources.
Through a collaboration with Neighborhood Allies, local artist Charlie Barber began a series of screen prints of seven local urban gardens. Prints are created and sold via Non-slip studio, and all proceeds will go to the featured gardens.
“I wanted to make supporting these places as easy and engaging as possible,” says Barber. “I hope that more people know about them, that they continue to serve the communities in which they are integrated and, you know, that they receive a little more attention.”
Barber has been a practicing artist in Pittsburgh for six years. A former Carnegie Mellon University student, Barber lived in Boston after graduating before returning to Pittsburgh in 2016. The city’s scenery and idiosyncratic homes caught his eye and he began a series of illustrations at pen and screen prints of Pittsburgh homes.
While the project was well received, with many reaching out to Barber with orders, when he saw protests and social unrest linked to racial inequality and police brutality in the summer of 2020, Barber reassessed what he wanted to do with his art.
“It gave me the opportunity to think about what I was saying and doing with my art, and doing, you know, portraits of Squirrel Hill McMansions just didn’t feel right to me,” Barber says. “So I wanted to highlight and celebrate very directly the types of areas that I knew were neglected, but I also knew that they gave a lot of value and places of restoration, comfort or peace to different people.
To help guide her efforts, Barber reached out to Tamara Cartwright at Neighborhood Allies. Together they came up with the idea of showcasing local gardens and Cartwright put it in touch with seven urban garden owners in the city, from Mrs. Natalie Thomas of Positive Effect Garden in Beltzhoover to Denise Rudar and Maya Guerin of Gardens of Millvale.
Barber had little experience with gardening, but he took inspiration from his familiarity with the landscapes and spent several hours in each garden talking to the owners, drawing as they shared stories to collaboratively create a vision. of how each garden would be represented.
Garden owners also shared their gardening wisdom, such as the symbiosis of companion plants, which Barber learned from Nicole Santella of The Sleeping Octopus Garden in Wilkinsburg. He was also able to experience garden life firsthand while speaking to Ms. Betty Lane of African Healing Garden in Larimer.
“It’s a pretty small plot compared to some of the others, but I was taking pictures and then all of a sudden this huge hawk landed 10 feet away from me on the fence,” says Barber, who adds that Lane told him that the hawk had visited the garden before. “And I was a little panicked because it was like a bird of prey. Betty was a bit more in the other corner, and I like, Betty, Betty, come over here, you gotta see this, and we’re just in awe of this bird.
Over the next several months, Barber made sketches which he sent to garden owners to make sure they recognized the images and approved the design. Once finalized, he could start printing at Pullproof Studio, adding one color at a time to the posters. Currently, posters for Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers and Peace and Friendship Farm are available, with more coming soon.
“The only one that all of these gardens run through is that they are welcoming, wonderful, friendly and charming,” says Barber. “Everyone I met had things to share, you know, stories to tell.”
Featured local gardens:
African healing garden
160 Meadow Street, Larimer
The sleeping octopus garden
1300 Wood Street, Wilkinsburg
Homewood Rain Garden
401 Rosedale Street, Homewood
22 Butler Street, Millvale
Black urban gardeners and farmers
7013 Monticello Street, Homewood
Positive effect garden
Corner of Climax Street and Estella Avenue, Beltzhoover
Farm of peace and friendship
678 Somers Street, Hill District